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Tunisia PM says no plan to resign after violent protests

MYT 1:55:01 AM

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's Islamist prime minister said on Thursday he would not resign following violent protests this week over economic hardship, and he accused opposition parties of sowing disorder.

At least 200 people were injured when Tunisians demanding jobs clashed with police on Tuesday and Wednesday in the city of Siliana in a region on the edge of the Sahara desert that has long complained of economic deprivation.

Tunisia's Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali gestures as he speaks during an interview at the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit in Tunis November 20, 2012. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
Tunisia's Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali gestures as he speaks during an interview at the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit in Tunis November 20, 2012. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

A prominent leftist political leader and protesters called on the prime minister to step down in the wake of the violence.

"In democratic systems we don't force down governments. I'm not going to resign or dissolve the government, it's parliament that has authority to do that," Hamadi Jebali told a news conference.

"We know who is behind these events, the opposition parties," he said.

The state news agency said police had used tear gas to try to break up more demonstrations on Thursday.

The protests are the fiercest since hardline Salafi Islamists attacked the U.S. embassy in Tunis in September over an anti-Islam film made in California. That violence left four people dead.

The government led by the Islamist Ennahda party that Jebali belongs to has sought to revive the economy after a fall in trade with the crisis-hit euro zone and disputes between secularists and Salafis over the direction of the North African Arab state.

This week the government secured World Bank and African Development Bank loans of $1 billion (623.3 million pounds) to meet its 2013 expenditures, but said it could ask the International Monetary Fund for a $2.5 billion credit line for 2014 and beyond.

"The silence of media and the opposition over the violence against the state threatens our democratic experience. Certain politicians who lost in the elections want violence and disorder," Jebali said, in comments apparently directed at leftists who have championed the Siliana protesters' cause.

"We have rejected the violence of people who want to impose their way of life under the pretext of religion, and we refuse the violence of these people too."

Jebali has accused both Salafis and liberal elites of harming Tunisia's economy and image through their conflict with each other. His Ennahda party has tried to present itself as a middle way between liberals and Salafis.

His comments on Thursday echoed Islamists who have risen to power in Egypt who accuse secular opponents of seeking to challenge elected authorities that reflect what they see as the Islamist majority in the country.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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